Report Card: Position Players, April

Record: 13-9
Position: 1st, 2.5 games up on Texas
PECOTA Playoff Odds: 35.4%
CoolStandings Odds: 32.5%

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DEFENSE

Fielding_medium
Source: FanGraphs. Standard caveats that this is only one measurement and a very small sample.

As a whole, the defense is playing exactly where we reasonably hoped that they would, near the top of the league. They are fourth overall behind the Rays, Brewers and Pirates. Franklin Gutierrez has been better than expected given we were mostly pegging him as a good center fielder, but right now he is playing out of his mind center field. Endy Chavez has been as advertised and the trio of Chavez, Gutierrez and Ichiro are covering almost the entire outfield.

Seriously. Flyballs are falling for hits just a tad over once per ten times. The league average BABIP on fly balls in .141. The Mariner outfield has saved eight hits from dropping in just 22 games. That's about seven runs of value, which projects to about 51 runs over a full season.

  • Ichiro has been dinged by UZR so far for his arm, which we're pretty confident will reverse itself and head back toward positive territory as it's been in every season since 2002.
  • Ditto probably Endy Chavez whose arm has never rated as well as Ichiro's but has been above average since 2005. I wouldn't be surprised to see him end up around average at season's completion.
  • Adrian Beltre has had a few problems with some early errors, but he's still Beltre, 2nd overall in UZR (behind Joe Crede) and 2nd overall in Range (behind Ryan Zimmerman) amongst third basemen.
  • Jose Lopez continues to put up average to slightly above defensive numbers, currently eighth among second basemen in Range and tenth in UZR. If he can hit like he did last season and maintain average or slightly better defense, he's close to a three-win player.
  • Yuniesky Betancourt is terrible and continues to get worse on the field. He's heading toward below replacement level status as a player. Replacing him with an average fielding shortstop would have bumped the Mariners as a team up to second in the league in UZR.
  • Russell Branyan can not only hit, but he can look not terrible in the field too. Bless you, Russ.

GRADE: A

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HITTING

Hitting_medium
2009 Mariners wOBA for April 2009. Source StatCorner.com

It's a good thing these guys can field (except for you, Yuni) because outside of Branyan, they have been sucking at the primary portion of their job. Second to last in baseball ahead of only Oakland (and thank you for that), the Mariner hitters are bad. The scary part is that they haven't even been unlucky really either.

Mariner hitters have a team BABIP of .295 and a team LD% rate of 18%. In fact, as far as run scoring goes, they've been lucky with a .335 BABIP with runners in scoring position. So while they are not due for regression from flukey categories, they are probably due for some improvement in the form of talent boosts. Adrian Beltre is a better hitter than this. Ichiro Suzuki always tends to start a touch slowly. Other than that though, we're looking at what our offense is likely to be. This team needs a hitting Jeff Clement at catcher in a bad way not only for match up purposes but also just to get more offensive upside in this lineup.

A key factor driving the offense down, and one that will hopefully start moving the opposite direction under Wakamatsu's harsh criticism, is the team's plate patience. At 3.63 pitches seen per plate appearance, the Mariners rank dead last in the American League and third worst in all of baseball (The Braves and Cardinals see fewer). There are some key players that I expect to help drive that number out of the basement.

  • Adrian Beltre has seen just 3.27 P/PA which is far lower than his well established career norm of around 3.8. One of the reasons he's seeing fewer pitches? He's making contact at the highest rate of his career, whiffing on just 16% of his swings. That's good, now he just needs to get better at picking which pitches to swing at. ... ... ... Moving along.
  • Jose Lopez might need to go back to the take until there's a strike edict he worked under at the start of last season. He's down over 0.4 pitches per PA this year. The good news is he's elevating the ball better without hitting into more pop ups and his contact rate is steady.
  • He's never been much of a patient hitter, but holy crap Mike Sweeney, lay off some pitches dude. Pitchers aren't throwing you many strikes.


Aside from those three, there's some other random notes.

  • An encouraging early sign from Wladimir Balentien who's taking 0.3 more pitches per PA over last year even as his contact rate has shot up over eight percentage points. He's doing a better job at laying off balls outside the zone this season and making contact with the pitches in the zone.
  • In every season, Yuniesky Betancourt has swung at pitches outside the strike zone more often. This year he's taken it to a new level, offering at nearly 42% of pitches that would be called balls. Right now I cannot think of a single thing that Yuniesky Betancourt does well. Meanwhile, Ronny Cedeno has seen 4.2 pitches per PA and swings at balls just 30% of the time.
  • Endy Chavez has a weird line so far this season. He's offering at fewer pitches than ever before, but also missing when he does swing at a dramatically greater rate as well, over 20% of the time compared to 11% last year and an established MLB rate of around 12 or 13%. Many of the pitches that he has been laying off are strikes, so he could do with swinging more often at those and connecting more often when he does swing.
  • Rob Johnson hasn't been that terrible at the plate, even taking a good number of pitches. He hasn't been good either and given that his actual measurable defense skills are lacking, he looks like a solid backup at the Major League level, but not more than that for now.

GRADE: F

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